My roomate says that the only reason to go start a car in cold weather before driving is to warm up the steering wheel. I stated that it was to get the cold fluids circulating, which was laughed at. So, is it a good idea to get the car warmed up prior to driving for the cars sake or only for your sake?
To warm up the steering wheel??? There must be something in that concept that I am missing.
Anyway, the purpose of warming up a car in very cold weather is to warm the various fluids a bit before driving the car. However, the best way to warm up the transmission fluid, differential oil, etc. is to drive the car slowly for the first few minutes.
In moderately cold weather, it is better to idle the engine no more than 30 seconds or so prior to driving. In extremely low temperatures, it is probably a good idea to idle the engine for a few minutes, prior to driving s-l-o-w-l-y. If for no other reason, it may be necessary to use the defroster on the windshield on a very cold morning, and unless the engine is already putting out enough heat, you could wind up with a visibility problem if you drive before warm-up has taken place.
As to the steering wheel, unless you are referring to a BMW or another luxury make that has a heated steering wheel, I have no idea of what you are referring to.
Your roommate is pulling your leg.
Start the engine, idle for maybe a minute or two then drive off slowly for a mile or so.
Agree; your roommate probably has sensitive hands and thin gloves, and likes the car warmed up inside. The only grain of truth here is that some cars with a column shift, at extremely low temperatures, have difficulty shifting into gear. I had a 1977 Pontiac Lemans sedan with a column shift and the car (when parked outside) had to run about 5 minutes before I could shift it into gear to take off.
With a modern car, there are really only a couple reasons to warm it up. One is that is to make the inside warm and comfortable. Another is that it makes it easier to scrape the ice off the windows. Unless you live in extreme sub-zero temperatures, there is no other logical reason to warm it up.
With most modern cars, letting them idle is the least efficient way to warm up the car. It will take longer than just driving it and will waste gas.
If you are worried about the engine wear created by driving the engine before it is warm, just drive it gently until it reaches operating temperature.